Royal Economics – or, why British taxpayers should celebrate the birth of a new prince…

Net Tax Revenue Royal Family

Whenever Buckingham Palace finds itself in the spotlight of global media attention, an ancient debate is revived, a debate that some experts estimate might be older than the monarchy itself: The debate of whether the royal family is still worth the taxpayers’ money in the 21st century.

At first, this might seem like a dispute that ought to be confined exclusively to British pubs, starring the Royals’ loyal supporters on one side and the isolated republican troublemaker on the other. Greatly diverging estimates of the costs attached to maintaining the Royal family can be exchanged  there, and then compared to the torrential flows of tourists who would have stayed at home were it not for the chance to catch the occasional glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II behind the windows of Buckingham Palace.

In these debates, the monarchists seem to have the edge over their subversive counterparts; for who could possibly argue that an average of GBP 42 million of Civil List payments (the Royal family’s annual income from the Treasury) in real terms over the past decade outweighs an added GBP 500 million in tourist spending on Royal castles, Royal towers, Royal mugs, and Royal mugs with Royal castles and Royal towers on them?

This squares well with 69% of British subjects agreeing that they would be worse off without the monarchy, against only 22% of unappreciative respondents in a 2012 survey by the Guardian. It is important to stress here that this argument is not based on the common misconception that the taxpayers receive about GBP 300 million from Royal assets every year. This income is generated by the Crown Estate, a collection of assets worth GBP 7.3 billion that has been surrendered to the Treasury by King George III as early as 1760 in return for a steady income through the Civil List.

Nevertheless, there is a case to be made to move the discussion out of the pubs and introduce economic reflection. So far, we have compared apples and oranges—government expenditure that has to be raised through tax revenue, and tourist spending, which needs to be taxed. This is like saying that it is reasonable for a simple employee to buy a GBP 40 million mansion because he just secured a GBP 500 million contract for his company.

Average Cost Royal Family

In order to answer the question, one has to make specific assumptions about how increased consumer spending will affect the economy. In traditional economic theory, an increase in demand for tourism represents an increased demand for exports. In a small open economy with flexible exchange rates and nearly perfect capital mobility, i.e. a country like the UK, an increase in export demand puts upward pressure on the interest rate, which draws in foreign capital. This increases demand for pound sterling on the foreign exchange market and therefore leads to an appreciation of the exchange rate until the pressure on the interest rate subsides. At this point, according to theory, the increased demand for tourism has been offset by a drop in exports (manufactured goods etc.) of the same magnitude. Overall, the output of the economy therefore remains unchanged.

Now what does this mean for tax revenue? Most tourist expenditures will be taxed at the VAT—so the tax revenue from increased spending on tourism is 20% of the increase in expenditure. At the same time, exports go down by an equal amount, but since exports are not usually taxed, tax revenue does not decline. While profits increase in the tourist sector, they decline in the export sector. Depending on gross profit margins in both sectors and the corporate tax rate, overall tax revenue therefore rises by slightly less than the VAT revenue due to increased tourist spending.

All of the following are assumptions within the framework laid out above and may be replaced by the reader in the attached Excel sheet.* The estimates have been chosen according to conservative estimates and available economic data. While most of the assumptions are self-explanatory, the fiscal multiplier can be used to assess the change in GDP due to an increase in domestic spending or an increase in export demand (both affect GDP and the exchange rate equivalently). In accordance with an econometric analysis by the IMF, it is here assumed to be zero—although an increase does not significantly change the results. Secondly, the VisitBritain estimate of the increase of consumer spending has been decreased by 30% because GBP 500 million in added tourist expenditure already include GBP 90 million in spending on admission to the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the National Maritime Museum.

These figures include an estimated increase in consumer spending of GBP 413 million in 2011 due to the Royal Wedding, and an increase of GBP 243 million due to the Royal Baby. On the other hand, the wedding also increased security spending in 2011 by GBP 21.1 million. While this is a rough estimate, one also has to consider adverse incentives that reduce innovation and productivity increases in the export sector due to crowding out. Even without counting these long-term effects, it seems that the Royal Family is not worth the money.

Costs and Benefits

Obviously, these numbers will hardly impress staunch monarchists who have been supporting the Windsors for centuries—just like it will be difficult to convince die-hard republicans that the necessary inequality is acceptable as long as the Royals attract enough tourists. However, everyone can benefit from moving the argument beyond the exercise of shouting out the highest numbers in pubs. There is still cause for celebration: When everyone gets together and celebrates Royal weddings and babies, the monarchy heals Britain’s wounds of the financial crisis.

*Unless indicated as 2013 prices, the figures given refer to the respective year.

By: Marvin Gouraud

Sources: Centre for Retail Research, IMF, World Bank, The Economist, Yahoo Business, The Guardian, Slate, Intelligent Life, Reuters, Consultant-News, VisitBritain, The Telegraph, royal.gov.uk, European Commission, Office of National Statistics (UK)

A Generation at Risk: The Global Youth Unemployment Crisis

student protest

The world, according to the business leaders at Davos 2012, is “sitting on a social and economic time bomb:” global youth unemployment. Many leaders at the World Economic Forum’s meeting last year iterated that failing to employ the youth today amounts to a “cancer in society,” which not only affects economic growth now but will significantly stifle future growth. The figures have not improved since Davos 2012: as of last year  12.4 percent of people aged 15 to 24 worldwide were unemployed, which has increased to 12.6 percent in 2013. Now, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in a global labor force of 3.3 billion, some 200 million people are unemployed, 75 million of which are between the ages of 15 and 24.  ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013 report points out that the weakening of the global recovery in 2012 and 2013 has further aggravated the youth jobs crisis—youth unemployment increased by as much as 24.9 percent in the Developed Economies and European Union between 2008 and 2012. Both developed nations and emerging economies alike are struggling to create pathways to employment for their young citizens. Youth unemployment rates, which have continued to soar since 2008, are particularly high in three regions: Developed Economies and European Union, the Middle East, and North Africa. The lowest regional youth unemployment rates in 2012 were South Asia, with 9.3 percent, and East Asia at 9.5 percent. The highest were 28.3 percent in the Middle East and 23.7 percent in North Africa. In the advanced economies, the statistics are equally worrying.  In the European Union, the rate was at a 10-year high of 22.6 percent in 2012—with Greece at a staggering 54.2 percent and Spain at 52.4 percent—while  16.3 percent of the youth in the United States was unemployed.

Unemployment rates alone do not demonstrate the scale of the issue, given the 290 million young people more broadly classed as NEETs (not in education, employment or training). According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 14.8 percent  of young Americans were qualified as NEETs in the first quarter of 2011, while the figure was 13.2 percent in the European Union. In the OECD area as a whole, one in six young people were without a job and not in education or training. The proportion of young people neither working nor studying illustrates how well economies manage the transition between school and work, which has become particularly problematic in developed economies.

The skills mismatch in youth labor markets is an underlying cause of this persistent and growing trend. McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, reported that in the nine countries that it studied (America, Brazil, Britain, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) 40 percent of employers were struggling to find candidates with adequate skills for entry-level jobs. In contrast, almost 45 percent of young people said that their current jobs were not related to their studies, and of these more than half viewed their jobs as temporary and said they were planning to leave. Another survey by Accenture found that in the United States, 41 percent of college graduates from the last two years had to take jobs that do not require a degree. The skills mismatch shows that over-education and over-skilling coexist with under-education and under-skilling.  This is particularly the case in most developed economies, where the job market is split between high-paying jobs that most workers are not qualified for and low-paying, low-skill jobs that do not provide a sufficient income.

Many economists think that such a systemic mismatch requires policymakers to reform rigid labor markets and implement education policies that would close the gap between the world of education and world of work. Creating vocational and technical programs and forging stronger relations between future employers and future employees are seen as remedies to ease the school-to-work transition. Germany, where apprenticeships and vocational training have long been the norm, has the second lowest rate (8.2 percent) of youth unemployment in the European Union. Such training programs, backed by a certification system, would allow employees to have skills transferable across companies and industries. However, only less than a quarter of education-providers offer similar practical courses involving hands-on learning in the classroom or training on the job.

It is also unclear if similar training programs would produce similar results in other countries, given that Germany’s export-driven economy is characterized by high-tech manufacturing, which employs many highly-trained manual workers. Thus, determining country-specific needs will be crucial for employing wide-ranging and well-targeted reforms. The ILO suggests that some labor market policies, such as targeting the employment of disadvantaged youth, promoting self-employment to assist potential young entrepreneurs, and implementing international labor standards ensuring that young people receive equal treatment at work, are necessary to revamp youth labor markets across countries.  Without significant reforms, it is estimated that there will be a global shortfall of 85 million high- and middle-skill workers for the labor market by 2020.Unless bold reforms are undertaken, many fear that the economic and social costs of long-term unemployment, discouragement and pervasive low-quality jobs will not only continue to undermine the growth of many economies but will also put a whole generation at risk.

By: Sera Tolgay

Sources: BBC News, Huffington Post, International Labor Organization, The Economist, Time Magazine, CNN, Business Week

Photo Credit: Paris January 15th, 2009 Student Protest courtesy of Flicker user frog and onion

Reinvigorating Trade Negotiations: Optimists in the Midst of Battle

tradeFree trade advocates are known for being optimistic; espousing the removal of trade barriers that are often jealously guarded by domestic constituencies as part of the national interest. The global movement towards free trade as envisioned by the World Trade Organization has always been an uphill battle, but this month it has had its fair share of reasons for hope. Negotiations for trade agreements have been struck between the EU and Japan as well as the EU and the US in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP), and Japan announced its bid to join the 11 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). These will be the most comprehensive trade agreements in history if they are fully realized, and the collective member countries constitute nearly 70% of world GDP. The conclusion of these trade deals, although bilateral, would be a great step forward in defining comprehensive free trade standards for the global market.

The reasoning behind this reinvigoration of free trade deals is expressed clearly in a study commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, as explained below:

The transatlantic free trade initiative needs to be considered against the backdrop of (i) eroding competitiveness of industrialized countries relative to emerging nations such as China and India, (ii) the long-lasting standstill in multilateral negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO), and (iii) the need for growth-stimulating structural reforms, as vividly highlighted by the current crisis in the EU.

The impetus and goals of these agreements are not only economic in nature, but also geopolitical. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) describes “a battle being fought now for the soul of the global trading system”, in which these free trade deals can promote high standards for reducing barriers to trade and set the agenda for future multilateral trade talks.

However, as  ITIF notes, there are many obstacles to overcome in this process. Agriculture, automobiles, cultural industries, and textiles are all industries that are historically reluctant to liberalize. Non-tariff barriers such as incompatible regulatory systems are even more problematic, but liberalizing these areas will bring the most benefits. The services market is another complex area, but because 30% of manufacturing costs are business services, there are strong economic incentives to liberalize trade in services. Since a large part of trade volume between these countries is intra-industry and intra-firm trade, companies’ costs for intermediate goods will be substantially reduced. Although most studies focus on the static and immediate gains from these trade deals, the dynamic and ongoing benefits will create positive feedback that renews the economic foundations of industrialized nations.

This is an opportune moment for trade deals, and the window may be closing fast. The political will is currently there to complete these deals, but may not last after the woes of the latest recession have tempered. Europeans and Americans are trying to stimulate their languishing economies, and Japan is pursuing radical new policies to end stagflation. Geopolitical considerations and a renewed emphasis on international competitiveness are the final pieces of the puzzle that make the deals more plausible at this point in time.

There are reasons for optimism in trade policy circles, but the battle is only just beginning.

Posted By: Ben Copper

Sources: IFO Institut, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Foreign Affairs

Picture Credit: Cargo Ship Terminal Burchardkai (Hamburg, Germany), courtesy of flickr user      Reinhard_Schuldt

A Health Care Nation

health care nation2013 will be the year that America becomes “The Health Care Nation”, according to a recent article in Fortune magazine. Reactions to the new health care law will make health care the center of national attention once again, with the majority of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s provisions scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2014. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services predict that by 2020: health care spending will have reached 20% of GDP (with 50% of that amount provided by the government), growth in national health care expenditures will outpace GDP growth by 1.1% on average, and Medicaid expenditures will grow 20% in 2014 alone due to increased coverage. Meanwhile, a recent Bank of America poll of leading CFOs reports that 60% cite health care cost as a key economic concern for the nation and 58% cite health care cost as a key economic concern for their company. The only greater concerns are in regard to U.S. government effectiveness and the budget deficit, both of which are strongly affected by health care costs.

Economists disagree over whether or not rising health care costs harm American businesses’ competitiveness in global markets, a crucial question due to the fact that the US spends far more on health care than any other country. The Council on Foreign Relations recently released an “Expert Roundup” on this topic. Robert Graboyes of the National Federation of Independent Business took the position that new health care legislation is hurting American competitiveness because it creates an uncertain financial planning environment and Neeraj Sood of the University of Southern California claimed that “rising healthcare costs have significantly reduced employment and output growth among U.S. businesses”.  Jennifer Baron of Harvard University insists that the indirect costs of poor employee health, such as low productivity, are twice the cost of benefit spending and so the emphasis should be placed on improving wellness rather than controlling spending on insurance plans.

Rapidly rising health care costs have been shown to negatively impact both businesses and workers. It is a common view among economists that increases in health care costs are offset by lower wages in the market-based system of employer-provided health care. A study by the RAND Corporation claims that since wages are generally sticky and do not react quickly to market value changes, rising health care costs can have negative impacts on businesses’ cost competitiveness, employment levels, revenues, and value added. This effect is exacerbated in industries that offer coverage to most of their employees, such as the automobile industry, and have less of an effect on industries that do not, such as retail. To make matters worse, a study by the Institute of Medicine posits that up to 30% of national health care expenditures are wasteful due to excessive cost, unnecessary treatment, and missed prevention opportunities.

Obviously, health care is a rising concern for the U.S. government, American businesses, and individual Americans. The issue will take years if not decades to be corrected, but a sustainable trajectory for health care costs must be found to ensure U.S. economic stability. It will be up to lawmakers to decide whether a focus on costs, value, or employee wellness is most appropriate (or most likely some combination of these factors). No matter what decisions are made, they are sure to affect every American in this “Health Care Nation”.

Posted by: Ben Copper

Sources: Fortune, Bank of America, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Council on Foreign                          Relations, The Economist, RAND Corporation, Health Affair, Institute of Medicine

Photo Credit: Hospital Bed, courtesy of flickr user: APM Alex

Graduation Rates: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

graduationOne of the main goals President Barack Obama laid out during his first term was to return America to its previously held position as the country with the highest number of college graduates per capita by 2020. This American Graduation Initiative (AGI) requires increasing the percentage of college graduates in the US workforce by 50% by the end of the decade. In order for the AGI to be accomplished, the number of college graduates would have to increase by an annual 16% every year from 2010-2020. However, the problem in reaching this goal may be rooted in low graduation rates, rather than low enrollment numbers.

America2020 is a private sector approach to the same problem, focusing specifically on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduates. Their plan is to encourage STEM degree completion by committing industry professionals to volunteer their time mentoring and teaching students in these fields. There will be an estimated 10 million STEM job openings by the year 2020, and OECD data reports that US students tend to have a low interest in science. This approach has already seen significant improvements in graduation rates with the schools involved and those students who have participated in the program are far better prepared for college.  Citizen Schools, one of the major forces behind the America2020 initiative, along with representatives from the White House and several big-name companies recently convened here at the Wilson Center to discuss details of its implementation and how they could be involved.

The American Dream 2.0 is an initiative by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that, “offers a comprehensive framework for how the hundreds of billions invested in the financial aid system can increase college access, affordability, and completion”. According to the Foundation’s findings, 46% of students enrolled in higher education institutions fail to graduate within six years. This rate increases to 63% for African Americans and 57% for Hispanics. In addition, total annual borrowing for college has more than doubled in the past ten years, as tuition rises faster than family income or inflation. These statistics are worrying, because those who borrow money for school but end up dropping-out without earning a degree have higher unemployment rates than those who graduate.

Good news comes from high school completion rates, which reached a record high in 2010 at 78.6%. While this is certainly heartening, fewer than half of those in the class of 2012 were ‘college ready’ as determined by the College Board last fall. In order to meet the challenges of President Obama’s AGI, education policymakers need to focus not only on college enrollment rates, but also on access, affordability, completion rates, and high school rigor. Although in the current fiscal climate, large scale investments in education may be harder and harder to implement, the effects of education investment on the productivity and success of our nation’s young people are immeasurably important.

By: Ben Copper

Sources: Huffington Post, PR Newswire, White House records, EducationSector.org, Citizenschools.org

Photo Credit: flickr user: Smithsonian Institution

US College Degree Attainment Remains Stagnant as Other Countries Pull Ahead

eduAccording to a December 2012 report by the Center for Public Education, the percentage of young adults in the US who are  college graduates has not significantly changed from the percentage of college graduates aged 55-64. This contrasts with the great gains that have been made in other parts of the world (such as South Korea, Japan, and most of the EU) where the percentage of college graduates is significantly rising each year. For those aged 25-34, the United States  now ranks 14th in the world for the percentage of workers with a college degree. While the United States remains 2nd in the world for 4 year degree attainment, just behind Norway, the main lag is in 2-year degree attainment, where the United States comes in 18th place.

The report shows that students fare better in college if they are well prepared in high school. This is especially true for low-income and low-performing students. According to the Council on Competitiveness, “simply being an American is not an entitlement to a secure, high-wage job” due to competition from emerging markets.  To win the skills race, workers need to attain a higher level of education, and success starts in K-12 programs.

The recent PAGE publication by education reformer, Paul Vallas: “Making a Success of Every School”, points out that it is not underinvestment that is hurting our public schools (out of OECD countries, the United States spends the 2nd most on public education), it is “the inability to invest wisely in the systemic reforms that would remove obstacles impeding the modernization of our educational system to meet new realities.”  Some strategies to improve American K-12 education include: providing greater access to educational technology in classrooms, encouraging partnerships between high schools and local vocational or community colleges, and ensuring the financial predictability that is crucial to long-term planning. The US system must evolve to meet the challenges of the 21st century if its workers are to remain competitive in global markets.

Posted by: Ben Copper

Sources: Center for Public Education, Council on Competitiveness

Photo Credit: Teacher in Classroom courtesy of Flickr user www.audio-luci-store.it

Google’s Worldwide Anti-trust Woes- Coming to an End?

googleFor the past two years the Federal Trade Commission has investigated the possibly anti-competitive actions of mega-company Google. Now, the investigation may be coming to a close as the FTC issued its final ultimatum: Google must produce a detailed proposal listing voluntary concessions the company will make to resolve issues over its search engine practices.

Several competitors, the most infamous of which is Microsoft but also including Yelp and TripAdvisor, have alleged that Google searches prioritize searches not necessarily by relevance but to promote their own products. Furthermore, competitors are concerned over potential copyright infringements of Google’s “snippets” which show with preliminary results. Microsoft has launched the “Scroogled” campaign to educate online users on the anti-trust battle and to ultimately persuade the audience to use Bing’s search engine honesty.

From Google’s point of view, spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker “the focus of Google is on Google and the positive impact our industry has on society, not competition”. They state that the order of search results is showcasing the best product available, which may put their own products over Bing or other rivals. They also state that regardless of the numberless ranking on the page, every site is equally one click away. Political proponents of Google, including several Democratic Senators have been outspoken on the issues, reminding the FTC that their job is not to protect competition but rather to aid consumers.

As Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon stated, it would be “troubling if the FTC sought to expand the use of its authority to target a company for simply being popular rather than engaging in unfair or deceptive practices that harm consumers.”

A similar anti-trust case is ongoing in Europe, which has offered Google comparable terms to end the need for a law suit. If Google’s proposal does not fit federal and EU expectations, the company could be charged up to 10% of the company’s value, or about $4 billion. Only time will tell the outcome of this case for Google, its competitors, and consumers worldwide.

Posted by: Sophia Higgins

Sources: Reuters, Time Business

Photo credit: Google @ photostream courtesy of Flickr user halilgokdal